Ridley Road Market: is Hackney’s historical market being gentrified?
Walking through Ridley Road Market, you are immediately met with bursts of colour, fruit and vegetables in abundance and a combination of cultures that London has been home to for so long. However, Hackney is an area in London which is undergoing a vast amount of change, and fears are rising that Ridley Road Market could be at risk of falling under the gentrification spell.
In 2010, Hackney Council announced that they were investing £1 million into Ridley Road Market. While these sort of improvements are generally regarded as positive, some now fear that the originality and history of Ridley Road Market is in jeopardy.
A recent survey has been commissioned by Hackney Council to residents and market traders in the Ridley Road area to, according to a council spokesperson, “gather feedback from the residents about what they are looking for in a local market.” This survey has sparked fear amongst residents and businesses that the market could be under threat of changing, or worse, stopping entirely.
“Ridley Road Market is a focal point for people living in the area. It is a great source of fresh fruit and vegetables at affordable prices,” says Juan Leal, a resident of Hackney. For someone so familiar with Ridley Road and its energy, this recent survey by Hackney Council has caused Juan angst. He fears that Ridley Road will no longer be home to the famous fruit and vegetable market and will be the next Hackney landmark to become gentrified: “I see nothing wrong with improving the market but not at the cost of the traders losing their livelihood in the name of regeneration. Hackney council do not exactly have a great track record when it comes to other markets in the borough.”
However, the same council spokesperson insists that Ridley Road Market is not in danger: “Ridley Road market is not under threat, we want it to grow and thrive, as we do all of our markets. We will collate all the responses and work with each market to develop individual business plans to attract more traders and customers.”
Although this is worrying for residents of the area, it is also causing concern amongst other Londoners. Artist and Illustrator Lucinda Rogers is particularly anxious about the changes taking place in the area and has focused her most recent exhibition, being held at the House of Illustration in King’s Cross, on the gentrification around Ridley Road Market.
“I had wanted to draw the market for a while — something struck me about it. There is certainly lots of visual material, but I picked up some sort of atmosphere that I really liked,” says Lucinda.
Lucinda started the illustrations of Ridley Road Market in August and spent four or five hours a day drawing the daily market life that surrounded her.
Having invested so much of her time here, she was able to get a real sense of how market traders were feeling about the future of the market: “We talked about how the market could be improved to gain more customers and business, because that is an important part of it – if the market is successful then there is more strength to keep it going.”
Lucinda goes on to say: “The council is always responsible and they have a big part to play. It is difficult when you’re unsure whether the council is on your side or not. I think we ought to be able to have everything together — one shouldn’t overlook or threaten the other. If you have places like this market, you have a place that is open to everyone.”
Natalie Nevert Griffith, owner of supper club Natalie’s Armenian Kitchen in South London, is a huge fan of the market particularly due to working within the food industry. She vividly remembers visiting Ridley Road Market often as a child: “My very first impressions of London as a child were of Hackney and Ridley Road market – I’ll never forget the vibrancy of the people, the hustle and bustle and amazing array of aromas of this place.”
Nevertheless, Natalie believes that gentrification, in general, is a good thing for Hackney: “There has been a huge amount of gentrification in the Hackney area and for the most part I think it’s had a positive effect and brought a lot of business and opportunities to the area.”
Whether gentrification in Hackney is for better or worse, one thing is entirely obvious and of a common opinion: Ridley Road Market must remain as it is. Natalie emphasises this feeling: “I do think it would be a great shame to ‘clean up’ the market too much, as its charm really lies in how it’s not changed over the years, as well as serving the community who have relied on this market for so long, for its wide range of produce.”